No-Noodle Eggplant Lasagna with Mushroom Ragú

December 21, 2022
4 Ratings
Photo by MJ Kroeger
  • Prep time 1 hour 10 minutes
  • Cook time 2 hours 40 minutes
  • Serves 8 to 12
Author Notes

There are many forms in which to enjoy the versatility of an eggplant: broiled until blackened, then scooped into a smoky eggplant dip; sliced paper-thin, fried, and served in a tower of irresistibly crisp chips with tzatziki as the restaurant Milos does, in New York City; slow-cooked with lots of olive oil until silky and sumptuous, as Francis Lam does in his Pasta with Eggplant Sauce. But when I was challenged with making a No-Noodle Vegetarian Lasagna, this was a curve-ball thrown into my usual eggplant repertoire. You see, eggplant is a vegetable (OK, fruit) that is notoriously finicky to cook well. I knew that I had to employ some extra techniques in order to deliver a recipe that avoided the common pitfalls of tough, spongy, under-cooked eggplant, and wasn’t too “diet-y” to still feel substantial enough for a main course. And, with that amount of effort, it better taste delicious!

After a few rounds of trial and error, I learned that the trick to success (and avoiding a soggy mess) was making sure that all of the ingredients had low-moisture content: salted, roasted eggplant; a thick, creamy béchamel; and a hearty mushroom ragú. The result is a satisfyingly dense, worthwhile, and tasty dish that falls somewhere between a moussaka and lasagna.

First was getting the eggplant right. While there’s debate on this technique, I’ve always found that slicing and salting the eggplant in advance helps to remove some of the moisture, for a more tender, properly-cooked outcome. When choosing an eggplant, look for fruit that is shiny and firm, without spots that feel bruised or dented when touched (old, overripe eggplant is more bitter). After testing different varieties and sizes, I found that eggplants that were about 1 pound each and 8 inches long worked best. They were big enough to adequately cover the baking dish, but they weren’t overly-seedy, as the huge eggplant tends to be (making holes in the roasted eggplant slices and sticking to the pan). I also considered Chinese or Japanese varieties, which have a milder, sweet flavor, but worried that they’d lose so much volume it would take an unreasonable amount of the skinnier fruit to form the layers.

Next, I focused on the right combination of fillings. On the first go, I prepared a classic, American-style lasagna composed of simple tomato sauce, béchamel, and ricotta filling, spread between layers of roasted eggplant. It had all the makings of a great traditional lasagna, but when I tasted it, the dish was far too wet with too much smooth sauce for the delicate eggplant (which doesn’t soak up extra liquid or maintain a bite the way pasta would). Serving it was a mess, and there wasn’t enough texture or flavor contrast to make it irresistible. Enter a mushroom ragú, which provided the rich, umami-filled depth of flavor and bolognese-like texture the dish needed. The ricotta filling also broke and released too much moisture, and didn’t contribute a whole lot of flavor. Instead, I opted to cut the ricotta layer and keep the more-stable béchamel in the mix for its luxurious creaminess. To make this recipe truly gluten-free, replace the flour in the béchamel with your favorite gluten-free flour blend, like Cup4Cup.

Finally, I had to get the ratio of eggplant to sauces and filling just right. Initially, I tried to squeeze in too many layers of eggplant to mimic the beautiful many-layered lasagnas of Northern Italy. But with the eggplant, this not only added to the watery texture but also required too many sheet pans and batches of roasting in the oven. I only wanted to use two sheets and one roasting session (less time spent, fewer dishes!). As much as I love those mile-high lasagnas, it just doesn’t work here.

This recipe takes time and has a good amount of prep: there’s no “no-boil” noodles to fall back on, and salting and roasting the eggplant is a crucial step. This lasagna would make a nice Sunday project to enjoy with friends or family, or save, assembled in the refrigerator, for your meatless Monday. If you simply don’t have the time or energy to make it entirely from scratch, here are a few time-savers: you can substitute the béchamel with a ricotta mixture, but know that it may have a more watery, and less creamy texture. Mix 1 pound whole-milk ricotta (about 2 cups), 4 ounces shredded low-moisture whole-milk mozzarella (about 1 cup), 1 ½ ounces freshly-grated Parmigiano Reggiano (about ½ cup), and 2 large eggs; season with kosher salt and freshly-ground black pepper. To make quick work of chopping the mushrooms, pulse them briefly in a food processor. You can also enhance your favorite store-bought marinara with sautéed mushrooms, rather than cooking the sauce entirely from scratch. Just make sure to brown the mushrooms properly and simmer the liquid to remove some of the moisture before assembly.

The eggplant becomes (you guessed it!) watery when frozen and thawed, so it doesn’t hold up well in the freezer. However, the lasagna can be assembled in advance and stored in the refrigerator, covered, for up to 2 days. If your family can’t take down an entire 9-by-13-inch dish of lasagna, the recipe can be halved and made following the same instructions in an 8-by-8-inch pan. This dish also makes excellent leftovers reheated in the microwave or a 350°F oven, for up to 4 days.

A note on cheeses: in this recipe, “grated” means the spiky, rasp-style side of a box grater. This results in fluffy, powdery cheese that distributes well and melts easily. If you don’t have the patience for that (I barely do), use a microplane or the fine shredding holes of the grater. “Shredded” refers to shredding a block on the large holes of a box grater. You’re welcome to use pre-shredded, but note that bagged cheeses are often tossed in starch to prevent clumping, and don’t melt as cohesively as prepping your own. Use low-moisture mozzarella cheese, rather than fresh mozzarella (the distinction is important to avoid a watery lasagna and achieve the bubbly brown top we all love).

Eggplant lovers, this one’s for you!
Lindsay Leopold

What You'll Need
  • Roasted Eggplant
  • 3 large globe eggplants (at least 1 pound each; about 8 inches long)
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Mushroom Ragú (makes 4 cups)
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 pound fresh mushrooms, preferably a mix of shiitake and cremini, finely chopped (5 cups)
  • 1 small yellow onion, finely chopped (1 cup)
  • 1 small carrot (3 ounces), shredded on a box grater (⅔ cup)
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic (2 to 3 cloves)
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 cup water
  • 3 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more to taste
  • freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • Béchamel (makes 3 cups)
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 cups whole milk, room temperature
  • whole nutmeg, freshly grated (optional)
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • For Assembly
  • 8 ounces shredded low-moisture whole-milk or part-skim mozzarella (2 cups)
  • 3 ounces Parmigiano Reggiano, grated (1 cup)
  1. Trim and cut each eggplant lengthwise into 6 planks about ½-inch thick (tip: cut the eggplant in half lengthwise first, then cut each half lengthwise again into thirds). Season both sides generously with salt, and set the planks in a colander over a plate until they release some of their liquid, about 30 minutes.
  2. Heat the oven to 425°F with racks in the upper and lower thirds. Press the eggplant planks dry with a paper towel or clean dish towel. Place the planks in a single layer on two rimmed sheet pans and brush both sides with olive oil (do not re-season). Using a pastry brush results in better oil coverage than drizzling. Roast the eggplant until pliable and browned in places, flipping once halfway through, about 24 minutes.
  3. Make the mushroom ragú: Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat in a large, straight-sided skillet. Add the mushrooms and the onion and cook, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon, until the mushrooms release their moisture, about 5 minutes. Continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the moisture evaporates and the mushrooms brown, 8 to 10 minutes. (Don’t be afraid of browning in the pan—color is flavor!) Add the carrot and garlic; season with a pinch of salt and pepper. Stir until the garlic is fragrant and the carrot softens, about 1 minute. Add tomato paste and stir until the paste is incorporated and deepens in color, about 1 minute more. Add the tomatoes, 1 cup water, and thyme. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low and cook at a steady simmer, stirring occasionally, until reduced and thickened to the consistency of porridge, about 20 minutes (you should have about 4 cups of sauce). Remove from heat, season with 1 ½ teaspoons salt (or more to taste), and a few cracks of black pepper.
  4. Make the béchamel: In a large saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Once the butter is melted, add the flour and whisk constantly until the mixture darkens slightly. Gradually add the milk, ½ cup at a time, whisking constantly until each addition is smooth and well-incorporated. The mixture will be quite thick at first, and thin out with each addition. Bring to a simmer, whisking frequently, until starting to thicken, 8-10 minutes. Turn to low and continue to cook, whisking occasionally, until thick and velvety, 5 minutes more. Remove from heat; stir in nutmeg and season generously with salt and pepper.
  5. Reduce oven temperature to 400°F.
  6. Assemble the lasagna: In a medium bowl, combine the mozzarella and the Parmigiano- Reggiano. Remove thyme stems from mushroom ragú. If there is any extra moisture on the eggplant, pat dry with a paper towel. Spread one-third of the béchamel (1 cup) in the bottom of a 9-by-13 glass or ceramic baking dish. Top with a layer of eggplant slices (6 slices) and ½ the mushroom ragú (2 cups), spreading ragú to the edges of the dish. Drizzle with ⅓ the béchamel (1 cup) and sprinkle with ⅓ the cheese mixture ( a scant 1 cup). Repeat layering with the second layer of eggplant, the remaining ½ mushroom ragú (2 cups), the remaining ⅓ béchamel (1 cup), and ⅓ the cheese mixture. Top with the third (last) layer of eggplant. Reserve remaining cheese mixture. Cover the baking dish with aluminum foil and place on a rimmed sheet pan to catch any drips.
  7. Bake the lasagna on the rack in the top-third position until the center is easily pierced with the tip of a sharp knife, about 40 minutes. Uncover, top evenly with remaining cheese mixture, and bake for another 20 minutes, uncovered, until the cheese is melted, bubbling, and browned around the edges. Let rest before serving, about 20 minutes. This will allow the liquid to settle and cool slightly to slice and handle more easily. The lasagna can be assembled through step 8 and refrigerated, covered, for up to 2 days, then baked for 1 hour at 400°F. Baked lasagna can be refrigerated, covered, for up to 4 days.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • cmcurran
  • David Strand
    David Strand

2 Reviews

cmcurran January 9, 2023
Fantastic recipe that is well worth the time and effort. Meal was enjoyed by everyone, both meat-eaters and vegetarians alike. Expect no leftovers!
David S. December 22, 2022
Fantastic recipe! Highly recommend for everyone!